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Seth Abramson @SethAbramson
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(THREAD) This thread unpacks the language and implications of the charges just brought against Russian national Marina Butina—Conspiracy to Commit An Offense Against the United States and Acting As An Agent of a Foreign Government Without Notification. Hope you'll read and share.
1/ The Washington Post somewhat misleading says in its article on the charges that they're "not part of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference." Note that in the sense any of us would ever care about that sentence—the practical sense—that statement is untrue.
2/ Whether or not Mueller is the prosecuting authority in the charges against Butina means absolutely nothing for whether he was and is being kept apprised of the work being done to prosecute her *and* any information that may result from that prosecution. The second part is key.
3/ Butina has already cooperated with the government (by testifying before Congress) and has already *offered* to cooperate with the federal executive branch—the people prosecuting her—also. Which means we can expect she'll be giving information that *ends up in Mueller's hands*.
4/ Indeed, it's entirely possible that any deal the feds might sign with Butina would require her to cooperate fully *with the Special Counsel*—i.e., give him all the information she has. So would she? Well, she's a Kremlin agent—so our first instinct is to say that she will not.
5/ The problem for Butina is she's 29—and she's currently being held without bail (meaning, she's looking at spending many months in an American jail while under accusation of being a Russian spy—which means she may be solitary confinement for her own protection the entire time).
6/ Someone Butina's age isn't going to want to do years in a federal prison for conspiring to commit crimes against the U.S. as a Russian spy—especially given that afterwards she'd *just be deported to Russia*, which would already want to kill her due to her offer of cooperation.
7/ So there's every reason to think Butina—for some kind of leniency and presumably some sort of asylum—has every reason in the world to want to spill the beans on *anything and everything* she knows about the Russian plot in America in 2016. And it seems likely she knows a lot.
8/ The second thing we must be absolutely clear on is *which Russian plot this case involves*—because it's *not* the several ones recent indictments have focused upon. Rather, it's the one that could lead to Donald Trump's impeachment and removal from office sometime in mid-2019.
9/ That is, Butina *isn't* alleged to be part of Russia's hacking operation in the U.S., or Russia's propaganda/domestic psy-ops (social media-driven) operation in the U.S., or any election data-sharing arrangement that may have existed between Trump's data team and the Russians.
10/ Rather, Maria Butina's task—as a young, attractive Russian spy—was to ingratiate herself to powerful Republican men so that she could convince those men to adopt, in the corridors of power in Washington, Putin's policy agenda—most *particularly* on the question of sanctions.
11/ During the course of her Kremlin assignment—which she engaged in covertly, per the charge against her, without the proper notification of U.S. officials—Butina came across Trump, Trump Jr., top officials at the NRA, and several other key Trump allies. So this is a *big* deal.
12/ The Butina charge therefore goes directly to the fourth element of the 2016 Russian plot: the attempt to find Americans within Donald Trump's orbit—up to and including Trump himself—willing to secretly collude with the Russians by adopting (for a price) Putin's policy agenda.
13/ What this means is that when Butina came across Trump, and his son, and senior officials at the NRA, and other Trump associates, and the several Americans mentioned—but unnamed—in the charges against her, she was trying to convince them to betray America for personal profit.
14/ Some of you may wonder about that last part: how do we know she was trying to convince top Republicans to adopt Putin's agenda for *profit*—rather than just because it was a good agenda? There are many answers, one being that she did this lobbying illegally for *good reason*.
15/ The Kremlin has no shortage of lobbyists and agents registered with the U.S. government, who try to convince American politicians to see things Russia's way simply by the force of their words. Butina was part of the clandestine effort to meet the same ends by different means.
16/ The other possibility—the Kremlin wanted to lobby top Republicans in a "normal" way, but just not have them know it was the Kremlin doing the lobbying—is a nonstarter, as Butina's boss (and everyone knew he was Butina's boss) is a known Kremlin agent. So that wasn't the plan.
17/ I'm explaining this to everyone in the way investigators would explain it to themselves and one another, and on the basis of my training as a criminal investigator and criminal attorney. I can tell you that Maria Butina's *methods* are under scrutiny here—not just her *ends*.
18/ So there's *every* reason to think the young, attractive Butina's *approach* to top Republicans was corrupt, and necessitated not just a general level of secrecy but the sort of secrecy that could (a) withstand any scrutiny of her boss, and (b) land her in prison if breached.
19/ We now know that secrecy was breached—and in a way that's devastating to Butina and the Kremlin. Federal law enforcement accessed Butina's PC *and* her phone *and* says it had her under electronic surveillance (and all other methods of detection you'd expect in a major case).
20/ So if you're wondering why Butina is held without bail and why she's already offered to cooperate—and would be even more inclined to do so now that she's without bail—the answer's the same in both cases (besides her being a flight risk): the case against her is likely strong.
21/ Many don't realize that the conviction rate at trial in federal court is over 90%—unlike state courts, where conviction rates at trial can be 50%-70%. So I don't say "the case against her is likely strong" out of hand—there are *many* specific and systemic reasons to say so.
22/ With that critical preamble out of the way, I'll now turn to the document itself, which you can read in full here (note that I'm not going to close-read the whole thing in this thread—I'm just going to focus on the most salient points and information): justice.gov/opa/press-rele…
23/ Butina entered America on an F-1 Student Visa in August '16—but ignore that date. Much of her work in the US predated that. The "Russian Official" in the document is Aleksander Torshin—and the way his activities are described in the charges we should expect he'll be indicted.
24/ Torshin has described himself as an "old acquaintance" of the President of the United States, and tried to meet secretly with him as recently as February 2017—an effort that was stymied after the press found out about the proposed meeting and the White House quickly nixed it.
25/ Torshin says he met with Trump in Nashville in April '15 at an NRA event. This was just a matter of *weeks* before Trump announced his presidential run on June 15, 2015. But—critically—it was a long, *long* time after Trump decided to run (latest date for that: January 2014).
26/ We must assume any meeting Butina or Torshin had with Trump had the same objective—as the charges against Butina contend was the case. That objective: to use *corrupt means* to convince Donald Trump to adopt Vladimir Putin's policy agenda, specifically as to sanctions policy.
27/ We'd say the same thing about *any* meeting Butina or Torshin had with Don Jr.—it was intended to use corrupt means to convince Jr. to convince his dad to adopt Putin's sanctions agenda. So any Don Jr. lie about a meeting with Torshin would make investigators suspect a crime.
28/ This is the part where I remind you that Don Jr. lied his ass off about his meeting with Torshin—and the White House lied about Trump's knowledge of Torshin from prior contacts. In fact—that I've seen—no one associated with the GOP has *ever* been honest about Butina/Torshin.
29/ Butina began her plot to infiltrate the GOP in 2013—which is an additional sign that what I and others have said is correct: Trump told Russian nationals in November 2013 at the latest (June 2013 at the earliest) he was running for POTUS, and the Kremlin reacted accordingly.
30/ Because the charges don't want to reveal much more information than they have to, they note the plot began in 2013 but don't seek to tie that to any sudden, new understanding in the Kremlin that they had a person they'd been developing for years running for the White House.
31/ So while many stories about "U.S. Person 1" focus on the fact that s/he told Butina to focus her illicit efforts on the NRA in '15, I'm as or more interested in the fact that the Kremlin set her on her path about the time Putin got kompromat on Trump and learned he would run.
32/ Trump and his allies have tried to convince us that illicit efforts to set up a "backchannel" with the Kremlin are harmless diplomatic maneuvers. Here's the FBI reminding us that law enforcement does *not* see such behavior (*cough* Kushner) in anything like that benign way:
33/ In other words, a backchannel is a method for secretly influencing our government—which is a threat (much like Butina's methods of infiltrating the GOP) precisely *because* it's secret. It's the Kremlin eschewing diplomatic channels *because it wants to do something illicit*.
34/ Note too that Butina's efforts were *criminal* precisely *because* they were secret—she hadn't registered with U.S. officials. So when Kislyak and Kushner cooked up a plan in December '16 for a secret Trump-Kremlin backchannel, they were trying to *secretly evade* U.S. laws.
35/ This part of the charge—*with its critical footnote*—is *so harrowing* you must read it in full. Butina sent this just days before her boss was going to meet Trump for the first time. Is Donald Trump the "Second Pozner" the Kremlin sought? An embedded propagandist for Russia?
36/ We *know* that *neither Butina nor Torshin* were the "Second Pozner" because—by 2015—Butina had been told by "U.S. Person 1" that she should not appear regularly (or even necessarily at all) on U.S. media, as it might backfire. Vlad Pozner was known for being on TV regularly.
37/ So days before Butina's boss is going to try to further develop Trump—who, like Pozner was, is on TV regularly and excellent at spreading propaganda—as a Russian asset, Butina sends an email talking about a "Second Pozner" and the GOP "likely taking over government" in 2016.
38/ And what was the email Butina sent about? The upcoming NRA convention—the convention at which her boss was going to make contact with Donald Trump. And did. And thereafter called him an "old acquaintance." Getting scary yet? See why Mueller *is* closely following all of this?
39/ But it gets worse. "U.S. Person 1" responds quickly enough to ensure s/he has their email read before the NRA event—and their response email is called "Potential American Contacts" and talks specifically about *the successor to Obama for the U.S. presidency*. Whoa! Bizarre.
40/ I say "bizarre" for this reason: at the time "U.S. Person 1" sent their 2015 email to a Russian spy about the 2016 presidential election, there was *only one Republican in the race* (Cruz) and he'd *just* announced less than a week earlier. So the Kremlin was planning ahead.
41/ Who did the Kremlin expect would be joining the GOP primary later on in 2015 who would be *friendly* to Russian interests? Remember, the Republicans' 2012 nominee called Russia the "biggest threat to America." So clearly the Kremlin had high hopes... *someone*... would arise.
42/ U.S. Person 1 also makes a reference to Butina having "special friends" who could help her make a list of the people she should get to know in America. Who were the "special friends"? Perhaps it's the GRU? Or perhaps—for all we know—NRA officials? We just don't know this yet.
43/ From the context, though, it sounds like the "special friends" are NRA officials with access to key business/political figures. But U.S. Person 1 says these friends (let's say they're NRA officials) *already could introduce her* to everyone she needed to know. This is *key*.
44/ It's key because the context of the email was the upcoming *NRA event in Nashville*—meaning U.S. Person 1 might well have been saying that, at that event, NRA officials could make sure that she and/or Torshin were able to meet one of their targets, that being *Donald Trump*.
45/ The kicker comes next: the agent writing the affidavit supporting the charges said he saw a Butina doc on meeting a political candidate twice (at "the announcement" and at the 2015 NRA meeting). We have every reason to think that's Donald Trump, for the reasons already noted.
46/ We know Trump was at the NRA event; we know he met Torshin there; we have every reason to think Butina was there with her boss; we know they were looking for a man who'd support Russian interests; almost no GOP candidate *could* fit that very particular bill but Donald Trump.
47/ So if Trump met Butina at the NRA event, and then at his campaign announcement in June of 2015, he knew *exactly* what he was doing when he called on Butina at "FreedomFest" in July 2015—exactly as other Trump aides suspected (see the Corn and Isikoff book for more on this).
48/ So here's Trump pretending to pick Butina from a crowd randomly in July '15, and pretending not to know her, as he avails himself of her Kremlin-planted question to publicly lay out (with him knowing Putin is watching) his Russia policy *on sanctions*.
49/ *Also* interesting is that 3 days before Trump's announcement—and her (it seems) meeting him again—she publishes an essay in The National Interest that could easily serve as a Trump endorsement, given he was the only GOP candidate who fit her vision for U.S.-Russia relations.
50/ And when Trump, nine months later, needs a venue to launch his pro-Russia foreign policy—which launch would be preceded by a VIP event which would be attended by Russia's ambassador (certainly a Maria Butina acquaintance)—where does he choose? The HQ of The National Interest.
51/ I'm won't go into detail about the August 2015 trip to Russia by two U.S. Congressmen that was part of the Butina plot, or the later trip to Russia by top NRA officials that was likewise part of the plan to end sanctions on Russia. There'll be much more on this soon—I'm sure.
52/ OK, here's where it gets crazy. The day before Josef Mifsud "happens" upon top Trump NatSec aide Papadopoulos—who's randomly in pro-Russia Italy right after his hire(?)—Butina writes a U.S. person that Putin or a member of his administration has said "yes" to a specific plan.
53/ Papadopoulos was cleared to go to Italy after his hire on what he says was a campaign trip—so it seems possible that he was told to go there and await further instructions. Then, on March 14, 2016, Trump's contact Butina got clearance from Putin or equivalent to make contact.
54/ Could Butina have been talking about some *other* "special [Kremlin] project* the *day before* the Kremlin's scholarly cut-out made contact with Trump's oh-so-unlikely national security adviser in Italy? Sure—but what other project would need approval directly from Putin? Hm?
55/ Note: Butina's emails confirm that Torshin—her boss—had a *direct line of communication to Putin himself*. So if in fact Butina had made multiple contacts with Trump, it's hard to believe the March 2016 "special project" could have to do with anything *but* Trump's campaign.
56/ Here's what I'm saying: I think these two charges "not part of the special counsel investigation" (Washington Post) in fact lay out, with the names removed, a *huge* piece of the Trump-Russia collusion story.

And the person charged is being held and has offered to cooperate.
57/ Now what if I told you that everything I've said so far about the Butina charges is just an APPETIZER? Because it is. The real shocker comes next.
58/ Here's an American *who is almost certainly going to be indicted or who is already cooperating with federal authorities* saying that s/he has created a PRIVATE LINE OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN THE KREMLIN AND THE LEADERS OF THE GOP.

PLEASE read that sentence a second time now.
59/ The claim by "U.S. Person 1" of a "VERY private" GOP Leader-Kremlin communication channel was made in October of 2016—*long* after GOP leaders knew that Russia was attacking the United States.

PLEASE read that sentence a second time now.
60/ Folks, they then start discussing SECRET SOCIETIES of "friends of Russia" in America that are "underground"! Not making this up—read the affidavit yourself. In the context of discussing GOP leaders friendly to and *secretly communicating with Russia*, we get SECRET SOCIETIES.
61/ Secret societies, "private clubs," "quiet influence," "secret advisors," "very private [GOP-Kremlin] communication channels"... this is all *insane*. But wait! It's not. It's a federal affidavit in support of serious federal charges.
62/ Now, as we wind down, what I guess can only be referred to as "dessert." The White House says that Trump never met with Butina and Torshin—that they were turned away. But were they? Because they attended a "very private meeting" that day whose participants they couldn't name.
63/ Clearly the "very private meeting" included more than Butina, Torshin, and the Breakfast organizer, or else she would have just said "thank you for meeting with us" (there would've been no "very private" component). I think it's clear they met with some administration person.
64/ Butina's desire/need to be secret is seen in the *same email* as she discusses "important information" (italicized in the email) whose nature she can't state in the email but only in person. "Very private meeting" exhibits the same level and type of caution as the italics do.
65/ The upshot is that if two criminal charges "not part of the Special Counsel investigation* include *this much explosive content*, what the *hell* do you think Bob Mueller is personally working on right now? This document is *as or more shocking* than Friday's indictment. /end
PS/ I didn't get into the Donald Trump Jr. angle because the thread was getting (very) long, but Trump Jr. had dinner with Torshin at an NRA event and then apparently lied about both the dinner and what they talked about. In law enforcement terms, that's "consciousness of guilt."
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